Final Tour: July 2015

An overview of recent line-of-duty deaths and what can be done

By Dale Stockton  |   Aug 1, 2015
Photo Dale Stockton

[Editor’s Note: Just as this was being posted we received word that Deputy Del Daniels, 22, Marlboro County (S.C.) Sheriff’s Department, died as a result of injuries suffered in a crash that occurred July 20. He had been on the job only three weeks and was a passenger in a vehicle that ran off the road when another deputy lost control. Deputy Daniels had been on a respirator fighting for his life but lost that battle early on the morning of August 1. He will be remembered in more detail in the August Final Tour. His death underscores the importance of speed awareness and seatbelt use for police officers. We lose way too many good people in situations that were absolutely preventable.]

As we close the books on July, 68 officers have died in the line-of-duty so far in 2015. Of those, 29 have been lost in vehicle-related incidents, 17 to gunfire and 22 to other causes, the majority of which have been duty-related heart attacks or illness. Compared to this same time last year, we’re approximately 13% lower in LODDs, but that won’t ease the pain of those who have lost a loved one.

Details on July Losses
Of the five officers lost during the month of July, one was killed by assailant gunfire, one died as the result of being struck by a vehicle, one died after being assaulted by an inmate, one died in a fall during a foot pursuit and one died in an industrial accident in a correctional facility. Listed in order of occurrence, following are summaries of those who served their final tour during this past month.

Officer Gregory Mitchell, 50, Georgia Department of Corrections, died in an industrial accident at the Hays State Prison in Trion, Georgia. He was performing maintenance functions at the prison when he was knocked out of a mechanical cart by a ladder. He suffered fatal injuries as a result of the accident. Officer Mitchell had served with the Georgia Department of Corrections for 25 years and is survived by his wife.

Officer Timothy Davison, 47, Texas Department of Criminal Justice Corrections, was beaten to death by an inmate in the Telford Unit in Bowie County. He was escorting the inmate to his cell when the man attacked him with an iron bar used to open slots in cell doors. Officer Davison was flown to a hospital in Texarkana where he succumbed to his injuries a short time later. The inmate who attacked him was serving a life sentence and had several convictions for assaulting corrections officers. The inmate was subdued by other officers. Officer Davison had served with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for eight months. He is survived by his two children.

Officer John Wilding, 29, Scranton (Penn.) Police Department, succumbed to injuries sustained the previous night at approximately 3:20 am while pursuing three juveniles who had stolen a car. After the juveniles bailed out of the vehicle, Officer Wilding and other officers chased them on foot. Wilding jumped over a small wall behind a restaurant without realizing there was a 15-foot drop on the other side. He suffered a serious head injury as the result of the fall. He was transported to a medical facility but died the next morning. All three juveniles were arrested and charged as adults with robbery, terroristic threats and recklessly endangering another person. Officer Wilding had served with Scranton PD for one year and is survived by his wife and two children.

Officer Vernell Brown, 47, New Orleans (La.) Police Department, died as the result of injuries sustained when he was struck by a vehicle while at the scene of a car fire at the split of U.S. 90 and I-10 East. He was training two police recruits at the scene when two vehicles were involved in a crash on an adjacent roadway. One of the vehicles veered off the road and struck Officer Brown. He was transported to a local hospital where he remained in a coma until succumbing to his injuries five days later. Brown had been with NOPD for 17 years and is survived by five children and a fiancee.

Sergeant Scott Lunger, 48, Hayward (Calif.) Police Department, was shot and killed during a traffic stop at approximately 3:15 am. After observing a vehicle being operated erratically, Lunger initiated a traffic stop and approached on the driver’s side. A second unit was on scene and that officer covered from the rear of the stopped vehicle.  As Sergeant approached, an occupant opened fire, striking Sergeant Lunger in the head. The other officer returned fire as the vehicle fled. The subject vehicle was found abandoned a short time later and a wounded suspect was subsequently located and taken into custody. Sgt. Lunger had served with Hayward PD for 15 years and is survived by his two daughters.

Lessons Learned

With seven months now behind us, here are some observations on the trends we’re seeing this year. Trainers—especially FTOs—should consistently review LODD summaries and make a point of sharing this information in briefing and with their trainees. We must honor the fallen by training the living. They would want nothing less from us.

Vehicle-related deaths continue to be the leading cause of death, dramatically outpacing deaths by gunfire. Twenty-nine officers have died in vehicle-related incidents so far this year and that’s more than 70% greater than losses due to gunfire. This is an area where we can definitely improve and it’s time for everyone who wears a badge to take substantive steps to increase officer safety through improved vehicle safety. Seatbelts should be a given, speed awareness is critical and officers need to wear reflective gear when investigating roadway incidents or directing traffic.

Gunfire deaths remain significantly lower than what we’ve seen over the past several years. Overall, losses from gunfire are down 37% compared to this same time last year and last year was noticeably low when viewed long term. Three months of this year (January, February and April) saw no deaths due to assailant gunfire. However, assaults remain frequent and there is little doubt that the level of hostility to law enforcement remains high.

Body armor works, but only when it is worn. Improved tactics are paying off but complacency can turn any situation deadly in an instant. Officers should consider using a passenger-side approach during traffic stops and continually maintain a “contact and cover” approach when working with another officer. The ability to self- or buddy-treat gunfire wounds is making a huge difference. Every officer should carry a tourniquet and know how to use it.

Line-of-duty heart attacks have killed 11 officers during 2015. The youngest was only 23 and seven of the fallen officers were in their 40s. The oldest thus far has been 55. This deadly trend should be of concern to all—heart attacks have consistently been the third leading cause of death for police officers.

The losses from heart attacks outnumber our losses due to ambush attacks and it’s time to recognize and proactively confront this “silent” killer. No one has more control over your health than you. I’ll say it again: At a minimum, know your blood pressure, your cholesterol level, your body mass index and your family history—then do something about it!

Below 100

None of the officers who lost their lives during 2015 thought their final tour of duty would take their life. For many, their deaths could have been prevented. It is clear that we can dramatically improve officer safety by simply exercising common sense. That’s the operational principle of Below 100.

We must take individual and collective responsibility for officer safety. We must continually challenge ourselves to learn from our losses and prevent future tragedies. And we must have the courage to speak up and confront other officers when their actions are putting themselves or others at risk. Courageous conversations with those who take unnecessary chances are key to improving officer safety. Confronting a fellow officer is never easy but it’s far better than going to their funeral.

Remember the tenets of Below 100:

  • Wear your seatbelt.
  • Wear your vest.
  • Watch your speed.
  • WIN – What’s Important Now?
  • Remember: Complacency Kills!

Special thanks to the Officer Down Memorial Page for their assistance. For more information on Below 100, check out www.Below100.org.

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Dale Stockton
Dale Stockton is the former editor in chief of Law Officer magazine, and a 32-year-veteran of law enforcement. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy, the California Supervisory Leadership Institute, the FBI Southwest Command College and holds a graduate degree from the University of California School of Criminology, Law and Society. He has served as a Commissioner for California POST, the agency responsible for all California policing standards. Stockton has been nationally recognized as the most widely published public safety photographer and writer in the country and taught college level criminal justice classes for 20 years. He has presented nationally at conferences in partnership with the National Institute of Justice and International Association of Chiefs of Police. Stockton is a founder, core instructor and current board member of Below 100. You can follow him on Twitter @DaleStockton.
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